Rail passengers are suffering further misery on Saturday due to strikes by train drivers, with further industrial action expected in the coming weeks amid worsening disputes over jobs, wages and conditions.
Aslef members from nine rail companies will be out for 24 hours, crippling large parts of the network, with parts of the country having no service.
Football fans, tourists and holidaymakers will be among the tens of thousands of passengers affected by the strikes.
Aslef will picket outside train stations, with officials saying they expect continued public support despite the impact of the action.
The strikes will affect Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, Greater Anglia, Great Western Railway, Hull Trains, LNER, London Overground, Southeastern and West Midlands Trains.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, told the PA news agency that the rail companies were unable to offer a pay rise without permission from the Department for Transport (DfT), but the government insisted that it had nothing to do with them.
He warned that if there was no breakthrough in the long-running line soon, more strikes would likely be called.
“We don’t want to strike – strikes are always a last resort – but the companies and the government have forced our hand.
“We don’t want to disturb passengers because our friends and families also use public transport, because we believe in building trust in British railways and because we don’t want to lose money. by taking industrial action.
“Companies said they couldn’t or wouldn’t give our members a raise.
“They blame the government – a result, they say, of the dodgy deals they struck when franchises were turned into management contracts – while the government says it’s up to the rail operators. So we’re caught in a catch-22 situation where each side blames the other.
Aslef said the striking drivers on Saturday had not had a pay rise for three years.
The union is also voting with Chiltern Railways, Northern Trains and TransPennine Express drivers for strikes, with results expected later this month.
Steve Montgomery, Chairman of Rail Delivery Group, said: “Aslef management has for the second time in as many weeks decided to impose even more uncertainty on passengers and businesses by disrupting the weekend plans of passengers.
“My open invitation to interviews with Aslef stands. The railway is too important to this country to allow a decline, but, with passenger numbers still 20% below pre-pandemic levels, ensuring a bright future means we must adapt to attract more people .
“We’re calling on Aslef to come to the table, so we can fund the pay raise we want to give our employees while delivering the Sunday service improvements and greater on-time performance our passengers deserve.
“While we are doing everything we can to minimize disruption and get people where they need to be, if you are traveling on the affected routes please plan ahead and check the latest travel advice and be aware that services can start later the day after the strikes.
Members of the RMT and TSSA unions will strike on August 18 and 20 while industrial action will be taken on August 19 by London tube and bus drivers.
Meanwhile, a row continued to rage over cuts to Sunday services on the west coast of Avanti. The company and Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps blamed Aslef’s unofficial action, which the union strongly denied.
A DfT spokesperson said of the company’s announced timetable changes: “People deserve certainty and confidence that their train will run on time, and while this decision is unavoidable it should minimize the benefits for passengers.
“It’s a great example of why we need to modernize our railways, so that passengers have reliable timetables that don’t depend on the goodwill of conductors volunteering to work overtime.”
The DfT said it was “entirely wrong” to claim the government was blocking negotiations.
“We said from the outset that we urge unions and industry to agree a fair deal for rail workers, passengers and taxpayers.”
The department pointed out that £16bn had been spent to keep the railway running at the height of the pandemic, adding that without this support there was a risk that businesses would collapse and thousands of jobs could have been lost.
Railway workers have seen above-average pay rises over the past decade, with their wages rising by around 25% from £35,000 in 2011 to £44,000 in 2021, the department said, adding that Salary increases for railway staff must be “equitable and in line with the wider public sector”.